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Electrical Engineering Overview

The Field - Preparation - Accreditation Day in the Life - Professional Societies - Earnings

The Field
Electrical and electronics engineers conduct research, and
design, develop, test, and oversee the development of
electronic systems and the manufacture of electrical and
electronic equipment and devices. From the global
positioning system that can continuously provide the location
of a vehicle to giant electric power generators, electrical and
electronics engineers are responsible for a wide range of
technologies.
Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical
equipment. Some of this equipment includes electric motors; machinery controls, lighting, and
wiring in buildings; radar and navigation systems; communications systems; and power
generation, control, and transmission devices used by electric utilities. Electrical engineers
also design the electrical systems of automobiles and aircraft. Although the terms electrical
and electronics engineering often are used interchangeably in academia and industry,
electrical engineers traditionally have focused on the generation and supply of power, whereas
electronics engineers have worked on applications of electricity to control systems or signal
processing. Electrical engineers specialize in areas such as power systems engineering or
electrical equipment manufacturing.
Electronics engineers are responsible for a wide range of
technologies, from portable music players to global positioning
systems (GPS), which can continuously provide the location of, for
example, a vehicle. Electronics engineers design, develop, test, and
supervise the manufacture of electronic equipment such as
broadcast and communications systems. Many electronics engineers
also work in areas closely related to computers. However, engineers
whose work is related exclusively to computer hardware are
considered computer hardware engineers. Electronics engineers
specialize in areas such as communications, signal processing, and
control systems or have a specialty within one of these areas
control systems or aviation electronics, for example.

"Electrical Engineering Overview"


Prepared by the Sloan Career Cornerstone Center.
More details and additional information is at www.careercornerstone.org.

Preparation
A bachelors degree in engineering is required for almost all
entry-level engineering jobs. Graduates with a degree in a
physical science or mathematics occasionally may qualify for
some engineering jobs, especially in specialties in high
demand. Most engineering degrees are granted in electrical,
electronics, mechanical, chemical, civil, or materials
engineering. However, engineers trained in one branch may
work in related branches. For example, many aerospace
engineers have training in mechanical engineering. This flexibility allows employers to meet
staffing needs in new technologies and specialties in which engineers may be in short supply.
It also allows engineers to shift to fields with better employment prospects or to those that
more closely match their interests. Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study
in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and science. Most
programs include a design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class
or both.

Admission Requirements
Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering
schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra,
geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology,
chemistry, and physics), and courses in history, humanities,
and computer and information technology. Bachelors degree
programs in engineering typically are designed to last 4 years,
but many students find that it takes between 4 and 5 years to
complete their studies. In a typical 4-year university
curriculum, the first 2 years are spent studying mathematics,
basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. In the last 2 years,
most courses are in engineering, usually with a concentration in one branch.

Co-ops and Work Experience Programs


Internships, coops, or sandwich year work experience programs provide students with a great
opportunity to gain real-world experience while still in school. In addition to giving students
direct experience in the field they are considering, interaction with others in the field can help
provide perspective on career path options.

Graduate Training
Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions and many research and
development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs.
Many engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn
new technology and broaden their education. Many high-level executives in government and
industry began their careers as engineers.

"Electrical Engineering Overview"


Prepared by the Sloan Career Cornerstone Center.
More details and additional information is at www.careercornerstone.org.

Accreditation
Those interested in a career in engineering should consider reviewing engineering programs
that are accredited by the official accrediting agency for their country. More details are at
www.accreditation.org, but in general, accreditation helps ensure that a program offers a
consistently high standard of education in a specific field. The process of accreditation also
serves to foster self-examination by universities; to develop a dialog between constituents of
educational programs on content, methods, and outcomes; and to encourage continuous
improvement of academic programs.

Day in the Life


Beginning engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers
and, in large companies, also may receive formal classroom or seminar-type training. As new
engineers gain knowledge and experience, they are assigned more difficult projects with
greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Engineers
may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff or team of engineers and
technicians. Some may eventually become engineering managers or enter sales jobs. Most
engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time
outdoors at construction sites and oil and gas exploration and production sites, where they
monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Some engineers travel extensively to
plants or worksites here and abroad. Many engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times,
deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work
longer hours.

Teams and Coworkers


Almost all jobs in engineering require some sort of interaction with coworkers. Whether they
are working in a team situation, or just asking for advice, most engineers have to have the
ability to communicate and work with other people. Engineers should be creative, inquisitive,
analytical, and detail-oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to
communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are important because
engineers often interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Professional Societies
Professional organizations and associations provide a wide range of resources for planning
and navigating a career in engineering. These groups can play a key role in your development
and keep you abreast of what is happening in your industry. Many offer opportunities for
university students to become members and provide programs and resources to pre-university
students considering a career path.

Earnings
Earnings for engineers vary significantly by specialty, industry, location, and education. Even
so, as a group, engineers earn some of the highest average starting salaries among those
holding bachelor's degrees. Many professional societies keep track of earnings in their area of
focus and geographic base.

"Electrical Engineering Overview"


Prepared by the Sloan Career Cornerstone Center.
More details and additional information is at www.careercornerstone.org.